HR Headaches: High Drama Employees and How to Deal With Them

Follow these 4 steps to deal with dramatic employees who may be damaging the work life of others.

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The quick shove into remote work that COVID-19 brought came with tons of challenges and questions. How do we even work from home? What software do we need? When will we go back?! With the uncertainty, there likely came a bit of relief in some ways as well.

Working in the office and being able to socialize and brainstorm in person with teammates is great, but there are some things about working in the office that are just a plain old hassle. High drama employees who can feel inescapable in the office are much easier to avoid remotely. However, they’ll often find a way to dampen the experiences of everyone — from their teammates to their manager.

Perhaps you’ve been hoping the dramatic employee in your office would eventually course correct on their own. Or you’ve got a new hire on your hands who is presenting problems with office drama. Whatever the situation, here are a few tips and tricks for dealing with high drama employees.

Ensure that leadership is leading by example

If managers, members of the leadership team, or even more senior employees take a drama-filled approach to work, it’s easy to understand that the behavior proliferates because it’s modeled.

The first step to dealing with dramatic employees is to make things clear in a variety of forms. A central one is leading by example. Ensure that all leaders, formal or otherwise, understand that others are watching their behavior and that it’s up to them to model appropriate behavior. They can do this by not engaging in inappropriate behavior like stirring up drama in the office.

Next, consider making it a clear company policy or a transparent expectation that your organization doesn’t tolerate needless drama. Of course, all kinds of legitimate issues can result in drama on their path to being resolved, but the key is that: it’s part of an issue that’s actively being resolved. That’s different from office gossip, bullying, or any other behavior that detracts from a safe and productive work environment for all.

Consider making it a clear company policy or a transparent expectation that your organization doesn’t tolerate needless drama. .

Determine and deal with the damage

When you have a high drama employee on your hands, the first thing you need to do is assess the damage. Has there been a victim of this person’s drama (i.e. have they been spreading rumors about colleagues or otherwise harassing anyone)? If so, your most immediate task is helping those who the drama has harmed.

Even if there hasn’t been a targeted victim of an employee’s drama, the whole office could be suffering in the form of low morale if the issue has been going on for a while, so consider addressing the damage on multiple levels.

Get to the heart of the real issue

Maybe the dramatic employee is spreading rumors about layoffs or otherwise questioning what’s going on with the business. It may then turn out that you have a leadership transparency and communication issue on your hands.

Perhaps the employee in question has a bad manager and their preferred way of dealing with it is by bringing others down with them. Whatever the case is, it’s important to get to the heart of the issue of what’s going on so that you can properly address it. Otherwise you’ll just be getting rid of one symptom of a larger problem that will create trouble down the road.

Provide coaching and other improvement opportunities

There may be extreme situations where an employee’s drama targets someone specific. The affected employee may then feel harassed or otherwise harmed as a result. In that scenario, termination may be the only legitimate solution for the employee causing the drama.

Outside of that, what a dramatic employee might need is some coaching on ways to improve. Sometimes the source of drama can be boredom, so help ensure that they’re properly engaged. Try focusing on their pathway to promotion at work or another professional-related goal. And, as always, if anything is above your head, direct the high drama employee to the benefits and other service perks that come with the job or that are available in your community.

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